In Alexander Hamilton's farewell letter to his wife Eliza, he famously praised her as "the best of wives and the best of women," but she was also a pretty spectacular mother. She raised eight children (six sons, two daughters) under often-difficult circumstances. When Alexander died, her oldest surviving son was still a teenager, and her youngest an infant, and although her husband had left her deeply in debt, she managed to see all her sons but her youngest attend college – a significant accomplishment for any mother in early 19thc America.
While none of the sons achieved their father’s rare stellar fame, all grew to be men that clearly carried Alexander’s heritage. Four of the surviving sons became lawyers, and were active in state and federal politics and government. The fifth was a soldier who attended West Point and fought in the Black Hawk Wars on the western frontier.
Tragically, Eliza’s older daughter Angelica’s mental instability deteriorated to the point that she could no longer be kept at home, and lived out her life under the care of a private doctor. The younger daughter, also named Eliza, married Sidney Augustus Holly, and Eliza lived with them in the later years of her life.
But Eliza also became a kind of surrogate mother to hundreds of orphaned children. She never forgot her husband’s grim childhood, and devoted herself to helping other helpless children. She was one of the women who founded the New York Orphan Asylum Society in 1806, and she sat on their board for many years. Beginning in 1821, when her own children were grown, she served as the asylum’s first directress, and for twenty-seven years she oversaw every aspect of the children’s care as well as assuming many of the financial and administrative aspects of running the asylum.
If Eliza was proud of everything that Alexander had done in his life, then he would have been equally proud of what she achieved on behalf of children - and if any mom deserves to be celebrated today, it's Eliza Hamilton. Happy Mother's Day, Eliza!
"Portrait of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton (Mrs. Alexander Hamilton)" by Ralph Earl, c1787, Museum of the City of New York.
I, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott will be published September 26, 2017, by Kensington Books. Pre-order now.